Safety risks can be managed in a number of ways. For example, engineering controls (machine guards) and administrative controls (establishing safe working procedures) help minimize the chance of injuries. Safety signs are also another tool that can be used to help employees identify hazards at their workplace.
Unlike formal, written procedures that fully outline or detail steps to be taken during a process, safety signs are a means of providing quick, immediate information about hazards. Communication is essential when it comes to employee safety, but it’s important to know that different safety signs are meant to communicate different hazards.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) specifies that signs should have rounded or blunt corners, not sharp edges, and “should be easily read and concise. The sign should contain sufficient information to be easily understood. The wording should make a positive, rather than negative suggestion and should be accurate in fact” [29 CFR 1910.145(e)(2)].
OSHA also provides details on the types of precautions that signs may help to identify:
- Used to indicate an immediate danger (e.g. alert an employee he or she is near a battery charging area) [29 CFR 1910.145(c)(1)(ii)].
- Sign colors are red, black and white [29 CFR 1910.145(d)(2)].
- Warn against potential hazards or unsafe practices (e.g. alert visitors there is nearby forklift traffic) [29 CFR 1910.145(c)(2)(i)].
- Indicate precautions to be taken [29 CFR 1910.145(c)(2)(ii)].
- Sign colors are yellow and black [29 CFR 1910.145(d)(3)].
Safety Instruction Signs
- Provide general safety information (e.g. alert an employee cleaning up a spill where the spill kit is)
- Sign colors are white and green [29 CFR 1910.145(d)(6)].
To help clarify how, when and where to use safety signs, OSHA has incorporated the ANSI Z53.1-1967 and ANSI Z535.1-2006 standards into regulation by reference. These consensus standards also provide details on sign sizes, color variations and usage to help facilities identify workplace hazards correctly for employees.
Identifying risks and eliminating workplace safety hazards should be a top priority in every facility. But, because not every hazard can be eliminated, using safe work practices, engineering and administrative controls, personal protective equipment and signs all work together to provide safer work environments.